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Posted by Steve Walsh on Nov 13th, 2020 2:29pm


Hundreds of female healthcare leaders from across Massachusetts gathered virtually to attend MHA’s Annual Women Leaders in Healthcare Conference, Leadership Redefined. The program featured interactive presentations on communication and negotiation skills, fostering inclusion and equity in the healthcare setting, building executive leadership, mentoring and more. Wellbeing for both leaders and their teams was the prevailing theme throughout the day.

Marylou Sudders, Massachusetts’ Secretary of Health and Human Services, delivered a video greeting to kick off the event. She thanked MHA and its leadership “for ensuring a strong, unified voice for our hospital and healthcare community in Massachusetts.”

Secretary Sudders also praised the current and aspiring women healthcare leaders in the commonwealth for their dedication and resilience and urged the conference attendees to tackle current challenges head-on, while still remembering to take care of themselves.

“During this extraordinary and challenging time – a pandemic, increasingly rancorous political divides, and an inflection point, confronting structural racism in our country once and for all – we must find our strength, and to do so with resolve,” Sudders said. “And to do so, ladies out there, you must also take care of yourself…It is a sign of strength to seek assistance, it is not a sign of weakness.”

The Women Leaders in Healthcare conference was emceed by Ceclia Houser, founder and president of C-Change: Executive Coaching Exemplified, who offered her own insights while overseeing the sessions and sharing questions from the audience.

“One way we’re reimagining healthcare is to acknowledge the life-changing work of our healthcare leaders, who have adapted at breakneck speed,” Houser said, adding that the first speaker of day, LaShyra “Lash” Nolen, Harvard Medical School’s first Black woman class president, personified “what leadership looks like in the new normal.”

Nolen, who began her remarks with moments of dedication to Breonna Taylor and Dawn Wooten, spoke about her personal inspirations and her journey to becoming the first Black woman elected class president of Harvard Medical School, as well as her advocacy for humane and equitable healthcare reform.

“[My grandmother] spoke life, breath and love into my dreams… and my mother was also the first person in my family to get both her bachelor’s and her master’s degree,” Nolen said. “So they are my why, they are my reason, and they are the force behind everything that I do.”

She said her experiences growing up and her two gap years – providing diabetes education in Spain on a Fulbright program, and serving with the AmeriCorps National Health Corps-Chicago – gave her unique inspiration to advocate to address health disparities as she entered medical school.

Nolen also recounted a special moment when Vice President-elect Kamala Harris gave her a shout-out on Twitter shortly after Nolen was elected the first Black woman class president of Harvard Medical School last year.

“I think that both of our messages have really been the same: It’s not about being the first, but ensuring that you’re not the last,” she said.

Suzanne Bates, CEO of Bates Communications, led attendees through a workshop on negotiation tactics and how to gain self-confidence by focusing on what she described as women’s strong problem-solving skills.

“Confidence is pretty much gender-neutral in how men and women are viewed,” said Bates. “But women are rated higher in terms of being willing to take on difficult issues without delay.”

Emerson Hospital President & CEO Christine Schuster, RN, MBA, then led a wide-ranging panel discussion on resilience and self-care lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic with three senior female hospital leaders: Nancy Gaden, DNP, RN, senior vice president and CNO of Boston Medical Center; Cheryl Lapriore, chief of staff, UMass Memorial Health Care; and Deborah Bergholm-Petka, MS, director of organizational development, Circle Health/Lowell General Hospital.

The panelists discussed the strategies they’ve used to take care of themselves and their team members during this stressful and exhausting time. Tips included having honest and authentic conversations with staff, expressing gratitude, and setting a great example in modeling both good self-care and caring for others. They also agreed that humor is a key element of instilling wellbeing within their teams, and shared some examples of how they’ve managed to lighten the mood under strenuous circumstances.

MHA shared the voices of several other women leaders in a video. The women were asked to describe what “Leadership Reimagined” meant to them.



Hiyam Nadel, MBA, RN, BSN, nursing director in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and director of the Center for Innovations in Care Delivery, Massachusetts General Hospital, shared a presentation on healthcare innovation geared to nurses, the largest sector of the healthcare workforce. She describes innovation as “methodological approaches infused with creativity and risk-taking,” and recommended using real people (especially frontline workers) and situations to design new programs or prototypes.

Massachusetts Women’s Forum President Jackie-Jenkins Scott then moderated a fireside chat on mentorship with Sandra L. Fenwick, CEO of Boston Children's Hospital and Patrice A. Harris, MD, MA, immediate past-president of the American Medical Association. Both Fenwick and Harris noted their deep concern about the loss of a large percentage of women in the U.S. workforce in the wake of the pandemic.

“Economic issues, the lack of quality affordable options for our children, the fact that a big group of us are truly members of a sandwich generation…what we are trying to do as women is becoming more and more challenged,” said Fenwick.

“We need to transform ‘normal’ to support choices [for women in healthcare],” said Harris.

Both women urged attendees to broaden their concept of mentorship and sponsors.

“Mentoring and sponsorship take many, many forms,” Fenwick said.

The event concluded with Hannah Ubl, co-founder of Good Company Consulting and communication and culture expert, who discussed how “reimagining healthcare” requires transformational change, and what that means for today’s workforce.

“For transformational change, we need to seek discomfort over comfort,” Ubl said.

But while most people equate discomfort with pain, and instead seek comfort through distraction or sameness, today’s changing workforce landscape means healthcare leaders need to expand their comfort zone and equate discomfort with growth. This means being honest about what you fear, what changes you might be resisting, and figuring out why you are resisting. Then, Ubl said, leaders should embrace the idea of calm and model what ‘calm’ looks like.

Ubl also touched on the importance of wellbeing, particularly in terms of good self-care, for leaders.

Ubl left attendees with a quote from Arundhati Roy that is apropos of both the conference’s themes and the times we are living in:

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

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